Success in Maryland

I’m very late in reporting here what happened at the first student orchestra concerts at the College Park campus of the University of Maryland. I’ve written about my project there — to work with music students to help them find an audience their own age.

All last year I tried to lay some groundwork for this effort, which in some ways proved very complex. When this year began — I mean this academic year — I wondered if there was time to get anything going for the first orchestra concerts, which were on September 30 (the Wind Orchestra) and October 1 (the Symphony Orchestra).

But I underestimated the possibilities! And when the concerts came around, there were students at them who’d never been to a music school concert before. At the Symphony Orchestra concert, 82 people came on special free tickets provided by the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, where the concerts were held. (Elsewhere I reported that 90 people came, but that was an estimate. The actual number was 82.) That’s an impressive number, especially when you visualize the concert hall, which holds 1100 people, and for these concerts is normally about half full.

The new people were seated in the choral seats — the seats a chorus would sit in, if one were performing — behind the orchestra. And the students in the orchestra found ways to make them welcome. They greeted their new audience from the stage. And — a great idea — they arranged for these new audience members to pick up their free tickets, not from the impersonal Will Call window, but from members of the orchestra they were about to hear. The musicians set up a table in the lobby, and some of them sat at it, to give the newcomers their tickets, and welcome them. They even had goodies — good things to eat.

So how did this happen? How were these new people recruited?

It was simple, really. There are two orchestras on campus made up largely of people who aren’t music majors. One is the Repertoire Orchestra, which plays symphonic music. The other is the Gamer Symphony, which plays videogame music, and fills the concert hall for all their concerts. This is an entirely student-run organization, very dynamic, very grounded, full of energy and imagination.

Most of the students in these two orchestras haven’t gone to School of Music concerts, though I’m sure they’re aware that the concerts exist. Why don’t they go? Well, they’d have to buy a student ticket, which would cost them $9.

But I think there’s another reason. No one ever invited them.

So that’s what happened. First, free tickets were made available. Second, invitations were extended, passed down from the musicians in the Symphony Orchestra, reaching the musicians in the other orchestras through those orchestras’ leaders.

It worked like a charm. And it seemed so simple. If we’d used marketing techniques — put posters and flyers around the campus, advertised in the campus newspaper, sent out email — I don’t think we’d have gotten much action. But a direct invitation — that’s another story. I think, in the largest scheme of things, that this was even more important than the free tickets.

The Wind Orchestra similarly attracted students who play in campus bands.

And now comes the hard part — followthrough. The students have to keep in touch with the people in their new audience, keep them involved, get them talking about the concerts to their friends. I’ll have further reports, when the time is right, on how that goes.

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  1. says

    Sounds great- what I don’t understand is why tickets are $9 for students at a University event? In any of the Universities I’ve taught at tickets were always free for students at the school. That might be a factor in keeping musicians who aren’t majors but love to play enough to play in an orchestra away. It’s great the tickets were free – will they always be so?

  2. says

    Greg Sandow! My hero! I am thrilled beyond words that someone is helping break down these barriers between the majors and the non-majors and stirring up trouble amongst peoples’ comfort zones. I did a few paltry little things along these lines when I was at CSPAC, but you have made such a difference in an area that has been problematic for years!

    @Barbara – the performing arts center at UMD used to charge $7 for select concerts (headline groups) and not charge for other concerts and recitals when I was in undergrad. They did reserve a percentage for free student ticket giveaways for release the week of each show (student rush, essentially), and I made a point of telling people about it! Not sure where the original price structure came from, but there you go.